During a lockdown, the police essentially take over the school. There are procedures we follow to ensure safety and order. There are regular drills so we all know what to do. But still, even when it’s a drill, it’s a huge inconvenience for everyone. Students miss appointments; those with after-school jobs are late to work, and of course, the lessons of the day are interrupted. Parents coming to school to pick up their kids are turned away by members of the SWAT team armed with assault weapons. No one leaves or enters the school for the time being. It’s incredibly inconvenient and disruptive. Every threat has to be taken seriously. Every procedure has to be followed. There is far too much precedence for horror to do otherwise.
After we were released, I managed to make some preparations for the coming week’s final exams before I left school. I raced home and we had a quick dinner before taking off for my younger daughter’s performance in a play with her classmates. The play was adorable and silly, as only an elementary school play can be. And as I chuckled and applauded, I choked down guilt that such joy was mine.
Later that night we were in Sedona, a trip that had been planned ahead of the winter storm and long before any of us had ever heard of Newtown, Connecticut. The sandstone rock formations were dusted with snow and shrouded in clouds and fog. In the morning, I hiked with my family in the cold drizzle and sleet, seeking solace and beauty. I implored those red rocks and ominous clouds to allow me to find some peace. I was in a place of unparalleled beauty, but my thoughts kept returning to unspeakable horrors. I noticed that the rain had a magical capacity to draw out colorful patterns on the normally dull, matte wood of the juniper. Beauty was all around me, in the grandeur of the vistas and the rivulets of water racing down the rocks.
The rain and sleet were constant, never letting up. The wind whipped and became still, then rose again. The trail wound through trees and red muck and onto the sandstone and back again. It was cold and miserable and lovely, hiking just below the elevation where the snow was sticking. As I comforted my shivering children after we’d returned to the car, I could only think of their counterparts at Sandy Hook, and wonder what words adults might be whispering to them. And while I know I am feeling only a fraction of the grief they must be enduring, I was overwhelmed by the sadness and pointlessness of it all.
Chilled by the rain and my thoughts, I could not get warm again, even after I was in dry clothes. I spent the rest of the day sipping coffee and reading and writing as close to the gas fireplace as I dared in the condominium where we were staying. Still, I was cold. To my very core, I was cold and no amount of heat brought comfort.
This afternoon, at home again, as I rinsed red mud from boots and pant legs, I was grateful. As I folded my family’s laundry, I found comfort in routine. I stoked the fire, adding wood my family had cut and carried, and finally felt the warmth that only rises from home’s hearth. We are all finding comfort in the routine of a typical Sunday evening. We are the lucky ones. The lucky ones who still have routine to cling to. The lucky ones whose lives haven’t been inexplicably, irrevocably wrenched into unspeakable darkness.
This evening, though, I asked my daughters if they had any questions about what happened in Connecticut. I found that my voice caught and it was a long moment before I admitted to them that I couldn’t answer the only question they asked: Why?